Aug 23 2010

Kahlil Gibran – Good and Evil

Published by at 10:12 am under Poetry

Good and Evil (from The Prophet)
by Kahlil Gibran

And one of the elders of the city said, Speak to us of Good and Evil.
And he answered:
Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.
For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.
And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, “Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance.”
For the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,
Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.
And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.
Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.
Even those who limp go not backward.
But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good,
You are only loitering and sluggard.
Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.
But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.
And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.
But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, “Wherefore are you slow and halting?”
For the truly good ask not the naked, “Where is your garment?” nor the houseless, “What has befallen your house?”

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran


/ Photo by butler.corey /

I like this meditation on good and evil. It challenges assumptions and and raises important questions. Gibran suggests there is only good, for that is everyone’s inherent nature, and what we call evil is simply being lost and uninspired. He calls us to be compassionate to those who are selfish and cruel, for they suffer from greater poverty than the homeless and greater hunger than the starving; they suffer from poverty of the soul.

I strongly feel one should never passively allow the hard-hearted to inflict harm or hoard what belongs to all. Such actions must be opposed with strength and courage and cunning. The vulnerable must always be protected. That is a basic duty. But even complete success in one action does not stop the fundamental dynamic of harm, just that particular instance. We must always remember that those who inflict harm and encode selfishness into systems and institutions, those people are also seeking their way, just blinded by their spiritual poverty. That’s where the real, patient work of the ages is found… finding how to open eyes and hearts long used to to being shut, finding how to redirect them toward the forgotten goodness and generosity held within.

This is where I have to take issue with the Gibran’s line, “Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.” We are neither stags nor turtles, and the speed of our spiritual unfolding is not fixed at birth. Every human being harbors something of the heavenly within. There is no speed to the process. All that is needed is the right reminder of what we already are. Then begins the steady process of discovering how to encourage that ember and let its warmth permeate all aspects of our lives. Turtles don’t need to become stags. Humans simply need to become themselves. Humans just need to become more human.

But how to reach those who would armor themselves against the urging of their own hearts? No simple formula, nor single action nor organization can accomplish this. Not a year nor a generation nor a century will accomplish this. Still, that is what must be done. That is the real, hard, slow work given to us all to accomplish, each in our own lives, our work, our world.

Knowing our work, let’s be impatient to begin and supremely patient in its accomplishment. Knowing our work, what cause is there for anything but joy in turning to it each day?

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.

Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

Lebanon (1883 – 1931) Timeline
Christian
Secular or Eclectic

Khalil Gibran was born to a Maronite Christian family in Besharri, Lebanon (then part of Syria and the Ottoman Empire).

His father, also named Khalil Gibran, had drinking problems and accumulated many gambling debts. This led Gibran’s father to leave his job as assistant to his uncle who was a pharmacist, and take work as an ‘enforcer’ for the local Ottoman administrator. He eventually ended up in jail.

Because of the family’s poverty, Gibran did not receive a formal education as a young boy, but a local priest taught him Arabic and Syriac, as well as the stories of the Bible and infused in him an awareness of the mystical dimensions of Maronite Christianity.

When Gibran was eight, his mother took him, his older half-brother and his two younger sisters to Boston. Although shy, Gibran quickly learned English and, thanks to a scholarship, started to receive more of a formal education.

The boy became fascinated by Boston’s world of art and music, visiting galleries and performances. At age 13, his artistic gifts came to the attention of artistic cultural circles in Boston, where he was further introduced to artistic trends.

Even with some of this early success, Gibran was sent back to Lebanon to complete his education, where he excelled in poetry.

He returned to the United States in 1902 in the midst of a family crisis. His mother had cancer, and his older brother and his fourteen-year-old sister had tuberculosis. His sister soon died. The brother, who had been supporting the family with a small hardware store, moved to Cuba to try to recover his health, leaving the young Gibran in the frustrating position of having to take over the hardware business. A year later, his brother returned from Cuba, but he died. The same year, his mother also died.

In the aftermath of so much death, Gibran sold the family business and threw all of his energy into art and writing and perfecting his English. He also reconnected with the Boston cultural benefactors he had known before.

He began to write columns for an Arabic-language newspaper and later collected these writings into his first published books.

In 1909, Gibran went to Paris for two years to broaden his artistic training, and he was particularly influenced by the mystical artistic Symbolist movement.

Returning to America, he began to publish some of his first Arabic prose-poetry collections through a publisher in Egypt. He became active with Arab intellectual and artistic organizations, promoting the rich culture of the Arab-speaking world, while attempting to address its many problems under Western imperial rule.

In 1911, Gibran moved to New York. There he met and was influenced Abdul Baha, the leader of the Bahai Faith movement. He also met Carl Jung and was asked to paint the famous psychologist’s portrait, at which time Gibran became intrigued by Jungian philosophy.

Gibran began to write in his adopted language of English, writing The Madman, though it would be rejected by several publishing houses until a small publisher named Alfred Knopf would take a chance on the work.

When World War I broke out, he worked to free Syria from Ottoman rule, but was frustrated by the messy realities of war and international politics.

Gibran published his greatest work, The Prophet. In the following few years, he would gain international notoriety.

He died in 1931 of cancer.

More poetry by Kahlil Gibran

19 responses so far

19 Responses to “Kahlil Gibran – Good and Evil”

  1. erin quinnon 23 Aug 2010 at 2:15 pm

    The stag and the turtle are one within you

  2. Constanceon 23 Aug 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Ivan, you call it “feisty thoughts for a full moon Monday “……
    I call it a “Monday Masterpiece”….one of your best pieces of writing….
    These Monday words will nurture me for many Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays as well ! ! ! Thank you so much.
    Constance

  3. fouziaon 23 Aug 2010 at 7:28 pm

    ivan,your coemmentary is the best thing on CHAI KHANA & the reason i keep coming back for more.
    Thanks for helping out people like me who on their own can make very little sense of even simple yet profound poems like this one.
    Keep up the good work pleas

  4. Subhan Alion 23 Aug 2010 at 11:09 pm

    R/Ivan, Gibran was a poet of heart and soul. For this quality of him he is read widely by the people with heart and soul. Even Lata Mangeshkar, the best singer (Kokila = Cuckoo) in India, commends Gibrans literature stating that she only reads the genres of Gibran.

    Gibran appeals me also much, this appeal encouraged me to translate his work, “Spirits Rebellious” into Hindi. R/Ivan you have also poured your heart into the commentary made on Gibran. Kudos to you.

    …..Subhan Ali, Ghaziabad, UP

  5. Ana Holubon 23 Aug 2010 at 11:41 pm

    blessings, Ivan. very beautiful writing…thanks.

  6. Rena Navonon 23 Aug 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Though all Gibran’s writing is even in quality and support his rank as prophet, ‘Even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue’ is my favorite here.
    I am joining this site first thing today and need the extra attention to struggling moments that the line offers.
    Some problems require more work than others and only the one standing on the spot can decide how much he is willing and able to give to his climb upwards. Gibran himself has proven how very far he takes his efforts to help others less fortunate than he. If he’s been there before himself or not is irrelevant; he is letting us know we are all of the same worth and ilk basically. His inner space is so big it can include the lesser for no one seems nobler.

  7. Akeemon 24 Aug 2010 at 12:24 am

    One of the Greats!

  8. simonbaghon 24 Aug 2010 at 4:08 am

    happy see one talks of compassion so much kind
    evades to plant the word evil in the others’ mind

    innate requirement keeping one going on alive
    makes the bear brutally attack the bees’ hive

    the great result of task not evil if ask the bear
    but peaceful city of the bees’ vanished forever

    as poverty stands up the faith collapses-down
    says Muhammad the prophet of islam in quran

    so the nourishment essence let reach the good
    and block to the evil all the routes to the food

    love the most potent guard of body and soul
    invite it in and give it chance to play its role

    when angel of love finds way into the heart
    from that heart the devil is made to depart

    devil the most selfish self in your command
    duty bound to satisfy yours own ill demand

    sure it lives in yours own inner self immune
    only love can make it not to play evil tune

    Hi Ivan I see you are trying to distribute
    the opportunity of thinking to any beaut

  9. isabel tippleon 24 Aug 2010 at 4:59 am

    Thankyou all commentators above and especially to you Ivan, who inspire me with their words. You are all a great beauty, like light on the water in its sparkle. I have long played with the word ‘evil’, reminding myself that it is, essentially, the word LIVE spelt backwards, that is, the opposite of life and, as such, can have no real existence in itself. It’s outward effects are all too apparent. But then, if they weren’t made evident to us, how would we know what our work was. May all the names and qualities that arise in us be of a compassionate nature. Surely Man is forever in progress and God knows best……

  10. Francis X.on 24 Aug 2010 at 3:59 pm

    …….goodness and generosity…..thank you for the key words for my day, Ivan, and thank you for your selection today. The only evil I encounter in my life seems to be my own misguided will……..I love Gibran too…..Thank you.

  11. Jhohananon 24 Aug 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Hi Ivan
    Thank youto remind me our Grea Khalil.
    It’s always by surprise Truth come to me.I like it!And I like very much yoor comments to.Always .Here is my donation to you today ,a slide show of my artworkyou can see on youtube ,taping in search box;Sacred Image Laurent Orgaz
    And maybe you can help me to spread it for the real donations to come true.Take care.

  12. franon 24 Aug 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Thank you, almost missed reading this one. Your commentary was right on, and I got more than a feeling to
    answer the calling:-) peace

  13. sudhiron 26 Aug 2010 at 2:21 am

    Dear All,

    ‘SONE-PE -SUHAGA’ this is what i can say instantly. d poetry itself is like GOLD[SONA] enlighting us @ d GOOD n Evil, because without knowing the freind or enemy how we can decide our behavior towards them, this is made very easily clear in the poem by proper dignosis to understand GOOD n Evil. Equally imp is d comentary of R/Ivan helping process of ‘Manan-Chintan’ leading us to hights of benefit from a good thought, normally tough for Me n people like me. whole hearted thanx.

    Much love n REgards,

    Sudhir

  14. Lynn Chazotsangon 26 Aug 2010 at 11:34 am

    Dear Ivan

    I love reading Gibran and your selection for today and your comment was most wonderful. Gibran’s interpretation of good and evil gives so much freedom and confident to everyone. Freedom to understand and to love and to act with compassion.

    You are a wonderful human being, a Bodhisattva.

    thank you

    Lynn

  15. Pitaon 05 Sep 2010 at 4:29 am

    Poor me, I’m encountering this wonderful thinker for the first time. Oh, how much yet I have to learn. Of everything! But I suspect, Ivan, you were a bit stringent with him, though I concur with your views in many ways. So I challenge you please, to listen to what is also NOT said: “Pity, the turtle can not teach the stag to scour the depths of the ocean” Probably, Gibran was not ridiculing the slow turtle but holding up a mirror for the swift stag! Yet, even if he was, it stands to reason the turtle is faster on water than the stag can ever be. Which is the beauty of the daily meal you serve on Poetry Chaikhana. They make one THINK! Thank you very much for all your efforts. God bless you.

  16. P.S.Remesh Chandran.on 30 Jan 2011 at 11:28 am

    Dear Ivan M. Granger,
    I arrived at your venue following Gibran. It is my pleasure to follow him to where he is discussed, thought about, remembered, read. Poetry Chaikhana, I see, is a dedicated meeting place. I read the responses and am happy to note that there are so many intelligent human beings who perfectly understands this immortal poet. He is second only to Omar Khayyam. It is believed that whoever goes after Gibran will have to go through the same misery, neglect, poverty, isolation, elation and sublimation he depicted in his poems. It is also theorized that Gibran hid his exquisite tunes behind a mask of blank verse so that the dull wits and half wits of his times won’t be able to sing them. His book Tears And Laughter has been slightly edited and recast in the true poetic form by Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Poems including Creation Of Man, Creation Of Woman, A Poet’s Death Is His Life, Song Of The Rain, Song Of The Wave and A Lover’s Call are available at http://sahyadribooks-remesh.blogspot.com. Please feel free to visit. Your comments would be highly appreciated. Sincerely Yours.

  17. Frankon 26 Feb 2011 at 12:22 am

    Gibran’s words simultaneously unite all travelers into one spirit, walking on the same road but alone. There is so much longing in his writing that is beyond pleasure or pain. It is simply the yearning for what is truly human.

  18. Peter Wolczukon 10 Jan 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Daniel 9:24 John 8:31-34
    From the job we were forced into
    To the career we were meant to do;
    Could that lead to new Serenity within,
    That we’d be freed from slavery to sin?

  19. Jahnese Asuncionon 26 Aug 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Gibran seems to suggest that Evil comes from (or is ) Goodness which is tortured only by its longing (hunger and thirst). what does Good thirst for? what does it long for? Is it ‘oneness with itself’? Is it being his Giant Self?

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